Fireflies light the way home

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 17, 2002

It is the small things we take for granted. On a recent trip to Arizona, the drastic changes in landscape were obvious. After crossing the Mississippi, the land flattened out and gradually grew browner and dryer.

Roads became straight - and in the few miles they weren't doing construction on the 1800-mile trip - the speed limits rose. I'm not sure what excited my boys more - spotting the first Mesa just before crossing the New Mexico state line, or the first clump of prickly pear growing at the mesa's base. Then again, It might have been Carhenge - the sight of old Cadillacs buried nose-down in the sandy Texas sod.

We were pioneers and pilgrims, space travelers discovering a new and alien landscape unlike anything we had ever seen before.

The first time we realized we were in foreign lands was at a Denny's in Oklahoma City, when we were told the restaurant did not prepare sweet tea. The second time was when the waitress seemed startled by the fact that the boys all said "Thank you" when she placed their meal in front of them.

"We are not in the South anymore," said my husband.

Not that the natives were rude - on the contrary. Our service throughout the trip was excellent and the food even better. But the "Please" and "Thank you" that are a baby's third and fourth phrases to learn (after "Mama" and "Roll Tide") are not in the common vernacular Out West.

In Arizona, we collapsed for day to recover from the two-day journey and it was then we noticed yet another oddity in this strange land. Unless it was a cactus, it wasn't green. There was no green anywhere, with the singular exception of the interstate signs and an occasional shrub. There was dusty rose and dusty blue, dusty orange and dusty pink. There was even dusty brown - imagine that. In fact, I did not know, until touring the umpteen million planned communities of Phoenix, is that there are at least 412 shades of brown, and they are all called adobe. The only things rarer than water out there were brick and frame houses, and primary colors.

There were marvelous sights, of course. The sunsets over the desert were spectacular. Unfortunately, this was largely because of the smoke in the air from the Show Low and Rodeo forest fires east of us.

We saw a real roadrunner darting across the local golf course (one strip of green, one very large sand trap). We saw, loping after the roadrunner, a coyote, of course. We saw borer beetles that were six inches long and a Western toad that was easily eight inches around.

What we did not see was fireflies - lightnin' bugs to those of us from below the Mason-Dixon line.

By the time we headed home, the novelty of Kokopelli, giant holes in the earth, and 412 shades of brown had worn off.

My boys were thrilled to see rolling green hills again. My husband was delighted to get his tea sweetened in the kitchen, not at the table. And me? I knew I was truly heading home in Arkansas, when I saw the first lightning bugs dancing over the rice fields like runway lights, dancing will-o-the-wisps headed South. The Wild West was a great place to visit, but I'll never take those magic summer lights for granted again.

Mary Reeves is the editor of the Andalusia Star-News.